Kissing under the mistle.., p.1
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       Kissing Under The Mistletoe, p.1

         Part #9 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Kissing Under The Mistletoe

  Author: Bella Andre Prologue

  Mary Sullivan looked forward to spending Christmas in Lake Tahoe with her family all year long. After seven decades of Christmas celebrations, she still felt the same wonder and joy for the winter holidays that she had as a child. Outside the large windows of the cozy log cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe, the clear blue sky was quickly giving way to clouds. The thermometer hanging on the trunk of a nearby pine tree told her the temperature had dropped ten degrees since morning. Mary had already lit a fire in the commanding rock fireplace that her husband, Jack, had built so many years ago with the help of his brothers.

  The first snowfall of winter was always beautiful, but tonight, sharing it with the people she loved most in the world would make it pure magic.

  This year would be a truly special Sullivan Christmas, because her family—eight wonderful kids and their families, who had filled her life with so much love and joy—would be arriving by nightfall.

  She couldn’t wait to see them all, but before they all arrived and every room of the log cabin erupted with constant chatter and laughter, she wanted to have a little quiet time with her precious memories.

  Moving away from the window, Mary headed for the large storage room in the back of the house. Stepping inside, she spent a few minutes admiring the marks along the inside wall.

  She and Jack had measured each child’s growth spurts over the years, from toddlers to full-grown adults. Smith and Chase had badly wanted to catch up to Marcus and when, at sixteen, Smith had finally topped his older brother by half an inch you could have heard his bragging for miles. The twins, Sophie and Lori, had thankfully grown at exactly the same rate. Different in many ways, her girls had the most important thing in common: big hearts.

  Jack and his brothers had built this log cabin nearly forty years ago, and she felt the love of the entire Sullivan clan on every shelf, every tile, every nail. Taking down the medium-size box from the middle shelf, she carried it back into the living room and placed it on a glossy wooden table near the bare Christmas tree.

  Mary had several friends who put up elegant Christmas trees using only red-and-gold ornaments or silver-and-white decorations. Their trees were holiday showpieces, so carefully put together that even Mary was nervous about knocking off one of the pristine ornaments. She always kept a good distance from those architectural wonders.

  No one would ever call the Sullivans’ big Christmas tree a showpiece or anything close to elegant, with its jumble of mismatched decorations…but Mary would never change a thing about it, even though her kids were all grown now. Every ornament on her tree had such a beautiful story behind it.

  With a smile of anticipation, Mary reached into the box and pulled out a thin, flat, bubble-wrapped package. She carefully undid it to reveal a Popsicle-stick masterpiece. Six wooden sticks had been glued into the shape of a star. At the center of the star was a hand-drawn picture of the growing Sullivan family from more than thirty years ago.

  Even as a little boy, family had meant so much to Marcus, her firstborn, who now owned the very successful Sullivan Winery in Napa Valley. Only four years old when he’d made this ornament, he’d drawn Smith as a toddler, dancing for their attention. Chase was crawling off in his diaper to discover a new adventure. Marcus stood between Jack and Mary, grinning as he held their hands. Already, Mary’s eyes were slightly damp as she hung Marcus’s ornament on the tree.

  The next bubble-wrapped package she chose was the heaviest one, which was how she knew it had to be Smith’s. There had never been any doubt in Mary’s mind that her second oldest son had been born to be a star. She’d been applauding him with pride in every play, every musical, and every smash hit movie he’d been in for more than three decades.

  One day near the holidays when he was six years old, he’d pulled out a small bag of concrete from the basement. After mixing it into the perfect consistency, he’d made his handprints in the concrete, signing his name with a flourish beneath them.

  Almost exactly two decades later, Mary had watched Smith place his hands in wet concrete again…only this time it was for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Finding an extra-strong branch to hang his handprints on, Mary placed Smith’s ornament on the tree.

  The next ornament came in its very own box, one that was as beautiful as the treasure it protected inside. When Chase, her third oldest son, was eight years old, his third-grade teacher had sent a note home asking the kids to bring in family pictures for an art project. Rather than pulling photos from the albums Mary had put together over the years, Chase took the pictures himself, using the camera Jack had given him for his seventh birthday. Already, her talented son had been on his way to becoming a world-renowned photographer.

  On the last day of school before Christmas break, he’d come home with this wonderful box, covered in a collage of the family photos he’d taken. In one photo, Marcus was swinging his youngest brother Gabe around in a circle as both boys laughed together. In another, Ryan was a blur as he ran after a ball. Zach was captured setting up a complicated toy race-car track in the basement and there was a shot of Smith as the star in a school play. In the photo beside that one, Mary and Jack were sitting side by side on the couch, each of them holding a baby girl. Chase had taken a picture of himself, too, in front of the mirror, half of his face covered by the large black camera.

  Inside the box was a round plastic ornament with one big picture of the whole family together glued around it. A few years later, one of the kids got hold of the ornament and, with a black felt tip pen, had drawn mustaches on everyone. Somehow, Mary thought with a grin as she hung it on the tree, she liked it even better with the funny faces.

  After putting Chase’s collaged box on the mantel for everyone to admire when they arrived later that evening, Mary dug back into the box of Christmas ornaments. When she drew out a long, thin ornament, her grin grew even wider.

  Ryan, one of her two middle sons, had always been busy with constantly revolving seasons of soccer, basketball, baseball and football. Mary remembered realizing she wasn’t going to get an ornament out of him unless she specifically asked him to make one. By then he was nine years old and believed he was too old to make Christmas ornaments, especially since his little twin sisters loved any excuse to be covered in glitter from their forays into Christmas ornament making.

  More than one Christmas party guest over the years had been confused as to why Mary had hung a stick on her tree…at least until she told them to take a closer look.

  Yes, the ornament he’d agreed to make was a stick. But it wasn’t just any old stick. At her request, Ryan had walked out into their backyard, kicking a rock with each step, grumbling to himself since he would have much rather been in the park across the street kicking a soccer ball with his brothers. Mary surreptitiously watched him from the kitchen window, and when he stopped beneath the big oak tree and picked up the stick to bring inside along with a few pine needles, she wondered what he planned to do with it.

  Ryan chose a pen from among the girls’ coloring stash in the family room and, with his usual easy grace that extended from sports to everything else he did, he began to draw on the branch. When he was done making his illustrations, he stuck several pine needles into holes on either side of the stick.

  A few minutes later Ryan walked back into the kitchen, where Mary was peeling potatoes for dinner, and showed her what he’d made. The reindeer was rather primitive looking, but it was unique. And fun. Just like her easygoing son. Most people never saw beyond Ryan’s athletic talents, but Mary had always known he was bright and funny and quite artistic, as well. Now, as a grown man, he brought
all of that to his career as a Major League Baseball pitcher.

  After making sure she hung his reindeer so that it wouldn’t blend in with the rest of the branches on the tree, Mary reached back into the box and drew out the next ornament.

  Her other middle son, Zach, had always been a practical joker. From birth he’d been such a shockingly beautiful boy that he could get away with anything simply by smiling. He had all the girls in his class under his spell, his teachers wound around his little finger and the other boys clamoring to be his friend. Now he ran a chain of auto repair shops throughout California and raced cars in his spare time.

  One Christmas, Mary had just finished making a large tray of gingerbread cookies and had left them on the counter to go and help bandage one of the little ones who had fallen off their tricycle in the backyard. That was when one of the kids snuck into the kitchen and took a bite out of each cookie.

  How could she do anything but laugh when she returned to the kitchen? None of the kids would fess up to the Christmas crime but, come Christmas Eve, when Zach announced he had one more ornament for the tree, lo and behold, it was one of the gingerbread men with a bite taken out of him. Zach had coated the cookie in a thick layer of rubber cement so it wouldn’t fall apart and had pushed a paperclip through the center of its forehead to use as a makeshift hanger.

  Life with her kids had never been dull, that was for sure, she thought with a chuckle as she hung the fun ornament on the tree. And she wouldn’t have traded a minute of those crazy years when they were all together in the ranch house in Palo Alto for anything in the world.

  The next set of ornaments was also in its very own box and Mary made sure to pull each one out with extreme care. Her youngest son Gabe had always been intrigued by fire, so it was fitting that he’d become a firefighter. He’d barely been four when Jack brought home a little Bunsen burner and suggested they try to blow some glass ornaments by hand. Mary had loved the way Jack had told the history of the first-ever Christmas ornaments to the kids, explaining that they had been made just like this.

  Mary remembered the two of them, standing side by side, focused intently on the job at hand. She recalled how Jack took absolute care to make sure his son didn’t get hurt, just as he always had with all of his children and her, as well.

  The resulting small glass ornaments were lopsided and imperfect…and utterly precious to her as she hung them on the tree now and every year.

  When Mary returned to the box and pulled out a large ball wrapped in pink paper that rattled in her hands, she knew exactly whose this was. Lori—aka “Naughty”—was one of her twin girls. Mary and Jack had already had six boys, who were more than enough to keep them busy from sunup to sundown, but that didn’t stop both of them from longing for a girl.

  She stopped unwrapping the ornament as she thought about that Saturday morning so long ago when Jack had realized Mary was pregnant again. The house was still quiet—an amazing and rare feat with so many rowdy kids. Jack woke her with his sinfully sweet lovemaking, and, oh, how she’d loved those sleepy moments in his arms, when pleasure would drift over and through her in gentle waves.

  She had almost fallen asleep again in his arms, when she heard Gabe call out from his bedroom down the hall. Only two years old, he was the earliest riser in the house, especially when he was hungry. And as a little firefighter in training, he was always hungry.

  She was just climbing out of bed when Jack stopped her with a gentle arm around her waist. His dark eyes were full of so much love it stopped her breath.

  “You’re pregnant. ”

  She had been so busy with her six boys that she suddenly realized she’d missed the signs this time around. Now she could see that her breasts were fuller, her waist slightly thicker.

  Jack splayed his hands over her belly. “You’ve always glowed during pregnancy, but this time you’re more beautiful than ever. ” He drew her close and whispered against her lips, with utter certainty, “We’re finally going to have a girl. ” It was crazy, but she swore she felt it, too—the slightly different energy inside of her compared to the six boys she’d carried.

  But there were more miracles to come when they found out they were having twins! And what lucky little girls Lori and Sophie were to have six older brothers to protect and care for them.
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